Blackhawks' third line blends skill, grit
Not even Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knew he would be getting this much from the third line of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg.
Thrown together after the lockout ended, the three Hawks have combined for 11 goals, 12 assists and are a combined plus-11.
They've been the Hawks' best line on some nights through the first 19 games for a team that has yet to lose in regulation (16-0-3).
"I think all three guys have been playing well," Quenneville said Wednesday. "A lot of nights that could be the differential, that line.
"They seem to have a lot of offensive zone time. Viktor off the rush has great speed, Bicks has speed as well and can shoot it, and Shaw can find pucks.
"They've all been complementing one another. They rotate well and use quickness and anticipation in that regard. I think they're getting better defensively, which gets them the puck, and once they get it they spend a lot of time in the offensive zone."
Shaw has answered a lot of the questions people might have had about him being able to handle the third-line center job.
"Shaw might have been a surprise last year when he joined our team, what he's capable of," Quenneville said. "Offensively he does a lot of things with the puck and he's got that tenacity and agitating type of play and has some offense to back it up.
"I think he's just taken off this year at that same rate. He has absorbed some of that responsibility of wondering who would be able to play that role."
Bickell leads the Hawks in hits and has been using his 6-foot-4, 233-pound body more than ever to be a physical presence.
"We have a skilled, fast team, but some games are rougher than others," Bickell said. "I just need to bring my physical game to every game to help this team get a spark or to just get the team fired up."
Shaw's sandpaper approach to playing the game often overshadows what he can do offensively, but he's not on the first power-play unit because he looks good out there in front of the net.
"He's got some skill underneath that sandpaper," Bickell said. "He's a gritty player who's not afraid to go into the dirty spots in front of the net and in the corners. That's where he's going to get his goals.
"Our line has been great. We've got three different things in our line to make the line good. Viktor with his speed and shot, Shaw with his gritty attitude and passion to go in the corners and never giving up, and my size has helped."
Shaw is a natural center who has played in the middle most of his pro career.
"I just try to stick to my game and go to the net," Shaw said. "Every team needs guys to do that. I like to go to the dirty areas and work my butt off and try to get those greasy ones to go over that line."
Shaw appreciates the confidence Quenneville shows in the third line.
"It's nice that he actually shows confidence in our line," Shaw said. "He gives us some big minutes, and we try to contribute offensively and defensively. It's helped build confidence for me and my line.
"Obviously, he respects my play and has confidence in me. He just keeps playing me the way he feels is suited for me and good things keep coming for it. If we just play and keep working for each other, we have good chemistry with our line."
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Hawks game daySt. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center, 7 p.m. Thursday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: The Blues are 10-6-2 but 13 points behind the streaking Hawks, who are looking to extend their record to 20 games of no regulation losses to start the season. The Blues have the top-ranked power play in the NHL, which should test the Hawks' second-ranked penalty killers. The Blues, just 4-4-1 at home, are banged up: Jamie Langenbrunner is out for the season following hip surgery, while Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion) and Andy McDonald (knee) are on injured reserve. Alexander Steen is questionable with an upper-body injury. The Hawks will be without Dave Bolland for a third straight game with an upper-body injury. Corey Crawford starts in goal.
Season series: Hawks lead 1-0.
Next: Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- Tim Sassone